A look at the 100 years of tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia affecting Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Words by Charles Odugbesan
The apex of European football, of which two of the most prestigious honours the domestic campaign has to offer is under siege. The mastermind of this heist? Only the Premier League.English football is running riot in Europe again! Next week we have four real heavyweights in action. On the undercard we have the Europa League final, now a glorified midweek London Derby between 2013 Champions Chelsea and last year’s semi finalists Arsenal. And the piece de resistance is the late kickoff on Saturday June 1st, a Champions League final between Spurs and 5x winners Liverpool.
The destination for the Europa League final this year will be in Baku, Azerbaijan and the big story from this fixture already is that Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitarayan will be forced to miss the game for “political reasons”. Fears for the midfielder’s safety in Baku may result in the Armenian missing the chance to play in the biggest game of the season for Arsenal. Imagine politics getting in the way of a game of football and essentially denying an employee the right to do his job! It leaves one wondering what exactly is the issue is here and just how serious is it? Well let’s have a look!
So the issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan are deep rooted and date back to their respective founding 100 years back. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were once all part of one region – the Transcaucasian Federation. Post WWI this region split into the three aforementioned countries. These three countries were under the control of Russia (formerly known as the U.S.S.R) at the time.
Joseph Stalin (General Sec of the Communist Party) sanctioned for Nagorno-Karabakh, an autonomous region for ethnic Armenians, to be created within Azerbaijan. Many believe that this decision was made in an effort to keep Armenia under the control of the U.S.S.R; all part of the ‘divide and rule’ scheme. Tensions grew as both Armenia and Azerbaijan felt the Nagorno-Karabakh region belonged to them. But so long as the U.S.S.R’s influence was strong, a war would not break out… until the late 1980’s.
The slow collapse of the U.S.S.R resulted in the loss of power over many regions including the one in question. Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum to declare themselves a sovereign state in 1991 and Azerbaijan, already engaged in a war with Armenia which began three years prior, rejected the attempt. Another 3 years of war and almost 30,000 casualties later, Armenia finally took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and a ceasefire was declared.
Despite the war officially ending in 1994, and a number of ceasefire agreements being signed over the years tensions between the two countries still run high and violence has broken out. There have been small but multiple instances of open fire, with 2016 being the most recent occasion.
And now with a major sporting occasion being brought to the Azeri capital, with millions worldwide watching on, it can be understood why Arsenal Football Club would be wise to leave their Armenian midfielder at home for this one! Not only his, but the safety of all players, managers, coaching staff and fans etc should be the number one priority.